Oversized Cosmopolitans and top-grade Mojitos sell with sizzle in this superhot market.
Writing about Miami Beach restaurants for a recent issue of Food & Wine, novelist Tama Janowitz observed that, “Everybody here seems to be obsessed with sex.” She points to heavily themed restaurants attracting the trendy late-night crowds, where customers dressed exquisitely in black dine on mattresses (at B.E.D.) and above live grass (at Tantra). Aiming to get their names in the paper and pull tourists and celebrities off the street, each restaurant has a clearly defined gimmick, and specialty drinks are part of each one.
Most noticeably, Janowitz observed the area’s young and beautiful indulging in colorful, creative cocktails. No slush machine drinks for this trend-setting crowd, for whom budget seems to be no consideration. The Beautiful People in Miami Beach encounter only the finest ingredients—top-quality rum laced with lime and mint in the endless varieties of briskly-selling mojitos, imported Russian vodkas swished just so with cranberry juice in an array of Cosmopolitans, flavored vodkas and liqueurs employed in the sour apple and chocolate-cherry-flavored Martinis that seem to proliferate in endless variation from bar to bar. At Tantra, she observes, “There are couples everywhere…sipping gold and green drinks with names like Sexual Center and Pure Ecstasy.”
With the strong Latin influence due to its Spanish-speaking population, an international sophistication and the hypnotic effect of the sultry Florida sunshine, restaurants throughout Miami have at least touches of this sensual blend. While diners can surely begin their meals with a Bud (a big brand here), many choose to stick with the mixed drink du jour. The vibrant colors, the blend of sweet and sour and the luxury of sipping from oversized glasses have become THE way to begin an evening in this trend-setting Southern ciudad. And the beverages that meet those criteria are money-makers for restaurateurs, who can charge a premium and make a pretty profit.
Champagne pours freely at the Rose Bar inside the Delano, an Ian Schrager South Beach hotel. “People order bottles of Champagne all the time here,” says Michael Flint, director of food and beverage. “We’ve even begun serving it in Bormiolli Rocco glassware, which is very elegant and very fragile crystal.” Veuve Cliquot and Laurent Perrier are poured by the glass, and whole bottles sell for as much as $4,200, for a 3-liter bottle of Perrier Jouet Fleur 1995.
Top and Middle: At The Tides Bottom: Ortanique
Champagne cocktails are also in high demand. “Variations like the Kir Royale have been popular for quite a while,” Flint says, “and now Bellinis are making a resurgence.”
Quirky versions of classic cocktails are also requested en masse. The Delano Cosmopolitan is made with Absolut Citron, Absolut Mandrin, Cointreau, Stoli Raspberry and a splash of cranberry juice. And the Blue Door Martini, named for the hotel’s restaurant, is made with Absolut Citron and Blue Curacao. For the Apple Martini, bartenders pour Stoli Orange with Midori.
Pricey Champagnes and top-shelf vodkas may sound a bit much for a bar, but not when paired with the bar food served alongside. Take the ThonThon, a popular appetizer served at the Rose: seared black and blue tuna with marinated daikon and lime. Another is the foie gras burger: pan-seared duck foie gras served with caramelized onion, baby greens and house-made tomato ketchup, served in the shape of a burger.
“Things start pulsating here after 10 o’clock,” Flint explains. “This whole hotel is very minimalistic, very mystical, with a lot of incredible artwork and furniture designed by Philippe Starck. It’s all very ethereal,” he says. “It’s an elegant getaway.”
Those looking for a more party-like atmosphere than the rose-colored Rose might end up at Mango’s Tropical Cafe, a wild restaurant, bar and club that most nights packs customers six deep at its four bars. Mango’s is Florida’s largest seller of Corona, but the mixed drinks on the 60-item beverage menu get plenty of play.
When the waiters and busboys aren’t boogeying on a table (dance lessons are a requirement for all staff members), they are serving up such house specialties as the Cosmic Cosmo, the house Cosmopolitan, made with Bacardi Limon, champagne, Chambord and cranberry juice. The South Beach Iced Tea is another top seller, made with vodka, gin, rum, tequila, triple sec, orange juice and Bacardi 151.
“You can go anywhere and have a Miller Genuine Draft,” explains bar manager Josh Wallack. “You can go to a gas station and buy a single Budweiser. But when people come here, what’s the point of sitting down and ordering a Michelob when Mango’s has got the most creative bartenders, who come up with these unbelievable drinks that we copyright? We offer so many appealing drinks. Fabulous models want to drink Martinis and Cosmopolitans, sour apple Martinis, watermelon Martinis, white chocolate raspberry Martinis, so everyone else does, too.
Beach House Bal Harbor
Clockwise from upper left: bar, front, restaurant, porch, pool.
While the beautiful people prefer the slender Martinis, tourists, says Wallack, “go nuts for a simple rum punch that we flavor up a bit with banana liquor, peach schnapps and apricot brandy.”
Nightclubs might get most of the attention, but such family-style operations as Tuscan Steak keep up with the multi-colored drink craze. Dinner service begins at 6 p.m. (common in the senior-filled market), and that’s when diners and the bar crowd begin ordering infused vodkas, which are served up in dramatic stemware. Starfruit and strawberry, or other fruits, spend two weeks macerating in giant jars of Finlandia vodka before being served to the many celebrities who frequent the South Beach restaurant. Cosmopolitans are big at the 44-foot-long bar here, too, made with Absolut Mandrin, “the hot new vodka,” according to general manager Steve Haas. The bar crowd commonly nibbles on Black Angus beef carpaccio served with freshly shaved Parmesan cheese drizzled with truffle oil while selecting from the Martini menu.
To complement Tuscan Steak’s family-style menu, which features thick steaks fanned out across oversized plates and placed in the center of the table, the restaurant has a “very, very extensive” red wine list. “We carry all of the high-end Italian and American wines,” Haas explains.